Fr. Paul's Homily
Recently, when flying back to Indianapolis, I sat next to a gentleman who was coming to Indiana to pick up a dog from a breeder. With his wife and six year old son, he had found a particular breed of dog that does not cause allergic reactions and sheds little hair. Obviously, this animal was very expensive.
Then there is the “mutt”, the mixed breed! Many of us have known these animals as wonderful pets. They may not have a pure bloodline, but in fact, they make great pets. In my brother, Joe’s, family their dog was “Freebie” who got his name from the fact that he was free! I would not even guess how many blood lines were in him! In my sister, Carol’s, family, their dog was “Henry”, the perfect lap dog, but also a mix breed.
When we think about the church, we are much more the mixed-breed variety than the pure blood. In our readings from Acts of the Apostles, Pentecost brought further the preaching of the Word to Parthians, Medes and Elamites; to people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Libya and Rome! It was probably the most nationally diverse group of people that you might have seen in Jesus’ day. They all heard the disciples in their native language, resulting in the conversion of 3,000 people that day! From its very beginning the church of Jesus was diverse and varied with many languages represented. Let’s talk about the great diversity of language and culture in the church.
The Church was always meant to be diverse since Jesus gave the command to “go preach to all the nations.” The Preface that we say at Mass during the Easter Season has expressed this; “Therefore, with Easter Joy, every land, every people exults in praise.” This international reality of Jesus’ command meant that the Word of Jesus would be expressed in hundreds of different languages and cultures around the world. And it all makes sense to God who understands every syllable!!
During the Noon Mass hear at Holy Spirit, we use both English and Spanish. I do this Mass quite often, so the Hispanic parishioners have to put up with my Spanish! During certain prayers such as the Creed and the Our Father, people pray in their own language, at the same time. When this first happened, my Germanic need for order and clarity was offended and resistive. But over time, I have come to enjoy this blend of languages, for each person is praying to God from their hearts. And God has no trouble with multiple languages!! At first I sensed chaos, now it is more the feeling I have at a family reunion when multiple conversations are occurring at the same time, in the same room. I may not understand all, but it is all good!
Jesus himself knew multiple languages. As a Jewish man from Galilee, his primary language would have been Aramaic; his language used for worship in the synagogue would have been Hebrew; and there is evidence that he spoke Greek which was the language the New Testament was written in. So, Jesus was probably bi-lingual, if not tri-lingual. While he was firmly raised in the Jewish culture of Palestine, he would have been familiar with the Greek and Roman cultures that surrounded him.
For most people born in the United States or in Mexico where we know only English or Spanish, we might be amazed about the fact that Jesus spoke several languages, yet his experience of being bi-lingual or tri-lingual is common in the world today. If a person is from India for example, they will know at least three languages: their local language, the regional language and English which comes from the British who colonized their country. The same could be said for people from an African country. They will know their local language, their tribal language and the colonized language, which is usually English or French.
The Catholic Church is alive in many world cultures and culture affects how we express our faith. Let me give the example of Eucharistic Adoration. The German/Irish culture is a more reserved culture, not showing great emotion usually. Many of us are familiar with this culture. For this culture, Eucharistic Adoration is quiet prayer. We come before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer that is private and devotional. We might pray the rosary, read Scripture, or sit in silent meditation. In the Hispanic/Latino culture expression of emotions and open communication is much more common. For this culture, Eucharistic Adoration is quite different. When in Honduras last January, we had Adoration for an hour in each of the villages that we visited. The Eucharist was put on the altar in the monstrance before everyone. But rather than silent adoration, we would sing songs together and between each song someone from the congregation would come forward, kneel before the Eucharist and begin to pray, out loud, to Jesus. The prayer was always personal and from the heart. When this person finished, we would then sing another song…and so it would continue for an hour of Adoration. Silent prayer was replaced by communal song and heart-prayer.
Culturally, we have two very different ways of adoring Jesus in the Eucharist. Both are valid and good; both ways can learn from the other; both ways give praise to God.
Another example of how culture affects religion can be found in the images of Mary. In most images of Mary, she is pictured as a person of that particular country and culture. When I was in the Holy Land last month, we visited the church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Throughout the exterior and interior of this beautiful church are paintings and statues of Mary from the different countries of the world. There must be 75 images…and each of them is in the image of someone native to that country. If you look at the image of Our Lady of Fatima, Mary is European; if you look at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is a brown beauty robed as an indigenous princess, surrounded by Native and Christian symbols.
We learn about Jesus and we express our faith through the culture that we are a part of. This is natural and good. It is all part of carrying the message of Jesus to every land and nation.
More and more, we are seeing and hearing the great diversity of the church right here in Indianapolis. Forty years ago I visited New York City for the first time and was struck by how many languages I heard on the street. Now, here in Indianapolis, we are seeing the same diversity. But it is not new for us, for if we would have gone back to 1900, we would have heard Italian at Holy Rosary, German at Sacred Heart, Slovenian at Holy Trinity and Gaelic at Holy Cross. Diversity is the beauty of our church. It is what makes us truly “catholic” which means “for everyone.”
The Church began on Pentecost by speaking many languages. We continue to speak many languages and through all these languages, God is praised! Multiple languages and cultures can be confusing and we might find ourselves resistive. Yet, it all speaks to the amazing richness and fullness of our Catholic faith. The presence of many languages is an affirmation that we are filling the command of Jesus to “Go teach all nations.” Amen, alleluia.